In an unprecedented move, the US Embassy in Tel Aviv has abruptly revoked a death report issued nearly four years ago to the family of an American citizen on the grounds that it listed him as having died in "Jerusalem, Israel,"The Jerusalem Post has learned.
In a peculiar twist, it appears the embassy's decision is connected to a lawsuit filed against the State Department in Washington demanding that the word "Israel" appear on American passports issued in Jerusalem.
The saga began earlier this month when Wendy Serlin, a resident of Beit Shemesh, received a certified letter from the embassy stating that it had decided to reissue a consular report regarding the death of her father, Myron Friedman.
Friedman, an American citizen, passed away in Jerusalem in October 2002.
At the time of her father's passing, Serlin had filled out the requisite consular forms, and shortly thereafter received an official US document known as a "Report of Death of an American Citizen Abroad." It listed her father's place of death as "Jerusalem, Israel."
Then, in an unrelated move, Serlin's neighbors, Naomi and Ari Zivotofsky, filed a suit against the State Department in the DC District Court in September 2003, demanding that their newborn son's place of birth be listed as "Jerusalem, Israel."
US policy in such cases is to denote the city as Jerusalem, while leaving blank the entry for the country so as not to imply recognition of Israeli sovereignty over the capital.
Earlier this year, after the US Court of Appeals allowed the suit to proceed, the Zivotofskys submitted supporting evidence to the court, which included a copy of Friedman's 2002 death report that Serlin had given them.
Since the report said "Jerusalem, Israel," the Zivotofskys hoped it would bolster their case.
Barely three months later, however, the US Embassy in Tel Aviv sent Serlin the letter informing her that they wished to "correct an administrative error regarding place of death" on her father's forms.
Included with the letter were 10 original copies of her father's death report, all of which listed the place of death as Jerusalem, with the country space left blank.
In an interview with the Post, Serlin expressed astonishment at the embassy's handling of the matter. "I was surprised when I received the letter from them and the new forms on which the word 'Israel' had been removed," she said, noting that, "I never asked them to correct it, so it seemed pretty clear they had done this because of the Zivotofskys' court case against the State Department on this issue."
Ari Zivotofsky said he was no less taken aback by the embassy's move. "I was flabbergasted by the extraordinary effort of the State Department to perpetuate its illogical policy of not recognizing Israeli sovereignty over any part of Jerusalem." "It smacks of an attempt to tamper with evidence," he said.
Contacted by the Post, US Embassy Press Attache Stewart Tuttle said, "Because these issues relate to ongoing litigation in which the United States Government is a party, I am not at liberty to provide details about the practices and policies that are the subject of the dispute." Asked to explain what had prompted the reissuing of Friedman's death report without the word 'Israel," Tuttle said, "We also do not comment on the internal decision making of the embassy."
Both Serlin and Zivotofsky, however, are convinced that the timing of the move was not accidental. "It seems more than coincidental that the embassy in Tel Aviv corrected the form just a few months after we submitted it to the court in Washington, and nearly four years after the original had been issued," Zivotofsky insisted.
"But I am confident that we will prevail," he said, "and if there are other Americans reading this who have birth or death certificates which state 'Jerusalem, Israel' on them, it would help us greatly to make our case."